"I did not anticipate this at all," said McClung, after he was told by Joe Maddon on Friday morning that the Rays had optioned him to Triple-A Durham. "It's a numbing acceptance. I definitely didn't think driving to work this morning that this would be the last day here."
In addition to McClung, the Rays also sent Chad Orvella to Durham and they reassigned Carlos Pena to Minor League camp. Pena can decide to take a release from the team instead, though. With the demotions of McClung and Orvella, the Rays pitching staff is set with Juan Salas and non-roster invitee Gary Glover making the squad.
"We talked about open competition at the beginning of spring and [McClung] was part of it," Maddon said. "We set forth philosophy, and if somebody has a proven track record of success, then you don't necessarily evaluate Spring Training performances as heavily."
McClung came into camp with a different outlook, both on the exterior and the interior. McClung had shed 20 pounds off his 6-foot-6 frame as a way to let the organization know he was ready to assume the closer role, a position that carries heavy responsibility. But McClung was also willing to work on things to let the coaching staff understand he would help in the relief corps wherever needed.
The 26-year-old reliever had both impressive and less-than-stellar outings this spring. For instance, he combined to toss 2 1/3 scoreless innings in two consecutive appearances on March 15 and 18, in which he allowed two hits with three strikeouts on 18 pitches, all strikes. But he preceded those stints with games in which he surrendered a combined seven runs and six hits and only one strikeout in two innings of work. More recently, after he had seemed to secure his spot in the bullpen, McClung gave up a total of five runs and seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks in a combined three innings on March 25 and 28.
"To the layman, you look at my spring and you see numbers that are ugly," said McClung, who went 4-2 with six saves and a 4.43 ERA in 24 games last year as a reliever in 2006. "I took an intelligent approach to [the] spring where I knew I needed to work on some things. They wanted me to work more on the command of my fastball. I'm disappointed the numbers turned out the way they did."
"I'm very surprised and disappointed," said McClung, who faulted his agents on the miscommunication. "I thought they couldn't send me down without trying to pass [me] through waivers. "Part of this is saying I understood what they wanted me to do, so I put aside personal goals of being a closer to just focus on working on things as opposed to just having the sense of being a closer and having that mind-set of doing so." Despite the dispointment, McClung is committed to returning to the Major League club as quickly as possible.
"I told Joe I'm ready to throw," said McClung. "Yeah, this hurts, but all I want to be right now is a Major League baseball player. The only thing I can do now is go to Durham and throw well."
Maddon believes McClung will return to the parent club.
"We look for him to pitch well and come back at some point," Maddon said. "We're looking for consistency."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.